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Dublin: 9°C Wednesday 14 April 2021

Beirne's big chance, O'Brien's recall and Kearney's calm at 15

Joe Schmidt has handed the Munster man an opportunity to show his class for Ireland in Cardiff.

JOE SCHMIDT HAS made three changes to the Ireland team to face Wales in the closing round of the Six Nations on Saturday at Principality Stadium.

Tadhg Beirne, Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney have been included in Schmidt’s XV, while Andrew Porter, Quinn Roux, Kieran Marmion and Jordan Larmour are named on the bench.

Beirne gets his chance

A knee injury ruled the Munster lock out of the opening two rounds of this championship before Beirne played for his province on the weekend Ireland beat Italy in Rome.

Tadhg Beirne Beirne will make his Six Nations debut in Cardiff. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

But the 27-year-old was available to Schmidt for last weekend’s clash with France, only for the Ireland head coach to select Ultan Dillane on the bench behind starting pair Iain Henderson and James Ryan.

The unfortunate Henderson – who also missed the start of the Six Nations – has been struck by injury again, this time his knee, opening the door for Beirne’s Six Nations debut and fifth cap.

It feels fitting that Beirne does so back in Wales, where he essentially made his name with Scarlets after coming close to quitting rugby following several tough years of injuries with his native Leinster.

Beirne’s rise has been stratospheric since his move to Wales in 2016, with his lineout-stealing, breakdown-poaching, ball-carrying, tip-on-passing and hard-working class making him one of the best players in European club rugby.

Having shown up impressively in his first four caps for Ireland, Beirne now faces into the biggest challenge of his career in what will be a scintillating atmosphere in the cauldron that is the Principality Stadium.

Beirne will need to be sharp and composed in pairing up with Ryan at lineout time – the Leinster man will call – but Ireland fans will be excited to see him unleashed.

The Welsh supporters, on the other hand, won’t be happy to see a player whose brilliance they know all about. The breakdown battle is going to be a thrill.

SOB chomping at the bit

With 55 caps, two Lions tours and a long list of achievements with Leinster to his name, Sean O’Brien might have had a chuckle at recent rumours of his demise.

Ireland’s Sean O’Brien O'Brien was dropped for the France game. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

In the Tullow man’s mind, he is still one of the premier back rows in world rugby and he will be more motivated than ever to show that in Cardiff on Saturday.

Dropped from the matchday squad by Schmidt for last weekend’s win over France, O’Brien will be chomping at the bit to get stuck into this physical and abrasive Welsh team as they bid for a Grand Slam.

O’Brien hasn’t had a lot of rugby this season, playing only seven times before this Six Nations, having suffered a broken arm in November. His belief has been that bringing his conditioning levels back up to a peak will help him produce his finest form.

And having had two weeks to push his body hard, particularly when omitted from Ireland’s training camp in Belfast on the second down week of the championship, O’Brien will be feeling primed to show up strongly in Cardiff.

Josh van der Flier’s injury has allowed O’Brien back into the seven shirt, but his vast experience, accurate communication, and infectious leadership could all be important as Ireland look to conclude this Six Nations in style.

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Kearney’s calm restored

A late withdrawal from last weekend’s success against les Bleus, it was always likely that Rob Kearney would be back in Ireland’s number 15 shirt against the Welsh if passed fit.

John Ryan, CJ Stander, Garry Ringrose, Rob Kearney and Conor Murray Kearney is a big influence in the Ireland squad. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The 32-year-old has come through this week’s training without any hitches so far and, as expected, replaces Jordan Larmour at fullback after the 21-year-old stepped in against the French and showed his exciting potential.

Kearney’s calming presence at the back could be crucial at the Principality, where the Welsh will look to the skies from time to time. 

George North and Josh Adams are physically imposing wings, Liam Williams is classy in the air, while there is aerial strength elsewhere in the Welsh matchday squad, meaning Kearney’s ability in this area could be key.

The Ireland wings, Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale, will need to work well with Kearney in the back three, where the Leinster man’s communication is an underrated asset and often allows Schmidt’s team to prevent panic by being organised early.

Attack-wise, Kearney will always have his critics and could certainly improve his passing game, but his big-game mentality is one of the major reasons Schmidt has continued to back him.

The Ireland boss will expect more calm contributions from the two-time Grand Slam winner this weekend.

Bench changes 

A relatively settled Ireland starting team could give Schmidt’s men the kind of cohesion that allowed them to dominate France in the first half last weekend, although there are a couple of interesting changes on the replacements bench.

Kieran Marmion Marmion is back in the matchday squad this weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Connacht man Kieran Marmion comes into the matchday squad for the first time in this Six Nations, having missed the early rounds as he built match fitness with his province after a recent ankle injury.

Marmion’s form for Connacht was strong and his greater experience has perhaps edged him in front of Ulsterman John Cooney for this clash in Cardiff, Cooney being very unlucky to miss out on making the 23.

Larmour, after his start at fullback last weekend, reverts to the bench this time around, meaning Andrew Conway drops out of the mix for the visit to Cardiff. 

Having shown his ability against the French, as well as demonstrating that he is still learning, the versatile Larmour will hope to add an impact in the closing stages at the Principality.

Andrew Porter comes in as back-up tighthead in place of John Ryan, while Dillane misses out on the second row replacement slot to his Connacht team-mate, Quinn Roux.

After their concession of two tries to the French in the dying minutes last weekend, the Ireland bench will be fired up to show Schmidt they have the steel required in the crucial closing stages of this game.

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Murray Kinsella

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